More usage sought for county’s $1 million log cabin
s they pull up to the stone gazebo at the limestone entrance of the Green Hills of Platte Wildlife Preserve, many visitors catch a glimpse of the nearly two century-old log cabin, tucked away on the east horizon.
The cabin was erected in the early to mid-1800s presumably by a French fur trader to serve as a trapper outpost, just after Missouri became a state. The cabin remains at its original site north of the Missouri River, just two miles northeast of where Parkville is today.
Hand constructed of walnut, cottonwood, and other deciduous trees growing on the property, the cabin’s log walls intersect at the corners in a dovetail and half dovetail fashion.
Although the log cabin, known to be one of the oldest remaining homes in Platte County, is owned and operated by the Platte County Parks Department, very few visitors have observed the unique characteristics of the Day Log Cabin or tranquility found in its natural surroundings.
Platte County Commissioner Joe Vanover is spearheading a renewed effort to share this historic gem with a greater number of people, while safeguarding the site and the habitat of the creatures who live here.
In recent years, the 1,500 square foot cabin has been the focus of one of the largest ongoing preservation projects in the county. The Platte County Parks and Recreation Department has invested approximately $1 million in restoring the cabin to its original appearance for future generations to enjoy. Yet many people still have no idea of the history right under their noses.
In the cabins glory days, it was owned by George and Emma Day, who purchased the property in 1912. Not only did the couple appreciated the rustic cabin situated on the heavily wooded valley, but the fresh water spring cascading along the northside of the property. When Dorothy Day, who is the granddaughter of George and Emma, took ownership of the property, it had been vacant for about twenty years.
Under Dorothy’s care, the cabin’s interior was minimally preserved, and an additional wing was built on in the 1970s with some delicacy. Before passing away, Dorothy expressed an unequivocal interest in passing on the historic asset and its surrounding 48-acres to help preserve its integrity for generations to come.
When the county took ownership of the property in 2002, a scenic wooded area across N. Green Hills Road was cultivated into a nature trail featuring wetlands with a meandering boardwalk, patches of evergreen forests, and a few ancient oaks. The project was made possible by dedicated funds from the Platte County Parks Sales Tax and a Land Water Conservation Fund grant administered through the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.
As for the historic cabin, a nine-member steer committee donated their time and expertise on how best to preserve this one-of-a-kind site in 2014. At the end of the process, the Platte County Parks and Recreation Department rolled out a three-phase master plan to transform the cabin and surrounding grounds into an educational destination. The county retained Strata Architecture, Inc. to carry out the engineering and assessment services for the first phase restoration project.
Phase two of the plan, backed by Brian Nowotny, the former director of Platte County Parks and Recreation, was to construct a fully functioning interpretive and exhibit space on the south end of the property, where the Day’s furnishings and keepsakes, like books and artwork, could be displayed. The interpretive space would also feature information about the county’s natural history.
The final phase called for the construction of an event space and classroom. A structurally unsound barn was to be torn down and replaced with prosaic amenities, such as restrooms and support facilities.
While the preservation work was carried out as initially planned, efforts to construct the interpretive space and classroom have faltered.
Daniel Erickson, who heads the Platte County Public Works Department and Parks and Recreation, told The Landmark the primary reason the Platte County Commission did not authorize funding for the final two phases was mainly due to a lack of partnership to help finance the additional phases. Some county officials also say the site’s capabilities are limited, making it a bad spot for an educational center.
“There are some issues with access,” said Erickson. “Getting up to the cabin is kind of a chore, due to the steep grade of the valley.”
The lay of the land also presents unique parking issues.
“Parking is a real challenge,” acknowledges Vanover. “Because the cabin sits a little above the valley floor, the site is not suitable for school buses. While there is a parking lot across the road, in my opinion it would be too dangerous to park school buses there and have a bunch of school kids run across the street to reach the cabin.”
While nestled a quarter mile from a major thoroughfare, the Day Log Cabin is a hidden treasure tucked away on a valley.
“Although we’re close to 9 Highway, the turn off 9 Highway isn’t terribly obvious,” said Vanover. “Green Hills is not a high traffic road, where lots of people drive by and see it. So, it’s somewhat secluded even though it’s close to Parkville and Riverside. You have to know it’s here to come find it,” said Vanover.
“Those are the reasons why sinking another million dollars into this space isn’t feasible,” said Vanover.
Despite these hurdles, commissioner Vanover is eager to attract more people to this historic wonder.
“I would like to see more people get to experience this original log cabin,” said Vanover. “I enjoy history, and I think there are a lot of people who also enjoy history. The opportunity to see a cabin, where it was originally built, and still stands today, is fascinating. It’s a shame the cabin goes mostly unused.”
On a breezy day last week, Vanover toured the grounds and got to see the extensive revitalization efforts that were mostly completed in 2016. Numerous logs were replaced and sealed with a professional grade wood stain, said Vanover. To keep the new logs safe, the cabin was treated for termites. Plumbing and electrical systems were also installed. While the new roof is indicative of wooden roofs in the mid-1800s, it’s actually made of rubber.
“All of the repairs and restorations will prevent it from deteriorating like it was before,” said Vanover.
Inside, it is remarkably plain. No TV, no dishwasher, no pictures. Throughout the main room, natural wood paneling around the hearth gives it a retro vibe.
“Many of the cabin’s furnishings have been cataloged, removed, and are currently in county storage,” said Vanover.
“Considering the cabin has about 1,500 square feet of livable space, it is likely the most expensive house in Platte County per square foot,” said Vanover.
If the two-story cabin is going to be utilized hence, an effort to find a use for it should be explored.
“We are looking for ways to increase the number of people experiencing the cabin without spending a significant amount of additional dollars,” said Vanover. “Would people want to rent the cabin for the weekend to experience old-time living? Would photographers want to use the cabin as a backdrop for family photos or senior pictures?”
The public is encouraged to reach out to the park’s department at platteparks.com with possible suggestions on how to activate the property and tailor it to the community’s needs.
“I don’t know what the use could be, but I think if more people know about this cabin, then I think we could attract more people to this gem,” said Vanover.
However, the suggestions should consider the cabin’s limited space and not distract from the site’s natural ambiance.
“The cabin is small enough that it is not realistic for more than one family to be inside at one time,” said Vanover. Still, the site is extremely photogenic and takes visitors far away from today’s distractions.
“Visiting this place is like taking a step back in time,” said Vanover. “You feel a world away from everything else when you’re here.”